Summary: Philip’s story: persecution to opportunities for evangelism to building bridges to baptism and the Holy Spirit.
Danger and Opportunity: Experiencing Biblical Community
Do any of you read Chinese? I wonder if you can read the characters on the screen behind me and translate them for us. (Chinese word for crisis; two distinct characters, put together these = “crisis”) What is significant about this? One of those Chinese characters, on its own, is the word “danger.” That makes sense; in a crisis there is some type of danger. The second character is the fascinating one: on its own, that second character is the word “opportunity.” In a time of crisis, there is often great danger, but there is more, as we learn from this Chinese wisdom: there is often great opportunity. I think that is very insightful; and it is certainly true of our Scripture passage this morning – Acts 8:1-15.
As you are looking that passage up in your Bibles, let me give you a brief review of the events leading up to chapter 8; without which it might not make much sense. The early church in Acts experienced rapid growth as God did amazing things, and that caused some problems. In chapter 6 we learn of some tension and possibly bias between two groups of Jews, and we saw how the apostles maintained their focus on preaching and teaching and selected seven other men to use their gifts and take care of some of these administrative things. One of those was Stephen, who is killed in chapter 7 for his belief in Jesus. A second one is Philip, who we read more about today. As I read the passage you will see how it was definitely a time of great danger for those who claimed to follow Jesus. Read Acts 8:1-25.
Danger from Persecution: vs. 1-3
Verses 1-3 record the immediate after effects of the stoning of Stephen – a great persecution broke out against the Christians in Jerusalem, led by Saul. It is a frightening picture – I don’t even want to try to imagine living in fear of a crash on the door and a hostile appearance of someone whose sole purpose at that moment is to capture and throw in jail anyone who believes in Jesus. Thankfully, that is beyond my experience.
Yet it is not beyond the experience of many Christians in our world today. The website for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (idop.ca) reports, “in Nepal, Christians trying to share the gospel with neighbouring villages have been jailed because they were mistaken for terrorists fighting in Nepal’s brutal civil war. In Iran, Christians who share the gospel with Muslims continue to face torture and death for their faith. Right now around the world over 200 million are suffering for their faith.” I have two reactions to statistics like that – relief and thankfulness to God that I am not one of them, and despair as I feel helpless to do anything about it. The second reaction is not true. The one request of the persecuted church in our world, today, meeting maybe at this exact time in a secret location for fear of persecution, is that we pray for them. That is what they ask: “pray for us.” On Nov. 16, the official IDOP, we will dedicate our prayer time in the service to honor that request, but why wait till then – why not do it right now? (pause and pray generally for the persecuted church).